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Covid-19 and the Spectrum of Fear

Fear is a name we give to associated but different emotions which lie along a continuum. In addition to fear itself, these emotions include insecurity, anxiety, panic, and terror. Panic and terror are extreme forms of fear, offer little hope for enhancing survival, and are best taken to a therapist for treatment.

What then of fear itself? Isn’t fear the appropriate reaction to the Covid-19 danger? Actually, no. Fear is useful to alter our biochemistry in a way which improves our ability to fight or flee from a real and present danger. The Coronavirus is invisible and everywhere. Can’t see it to fight. There’s nowhere to run.

If panic, terror and even fear itself are not “appropriate” emotional responses to this pandemic, can we at least feel anxious about it? Yes and no. Anxiety, like fear itself has a spectrum. General Anxiety Disorder is at the high end and is considered a psychiatric problem because it is characterized by excessive worry. Other symptoms of G.A.D. may include sleep problems, inability to relax, difficulty in concentration, and a host of other symptoms. If you have anxiety, it may be good to check with your physician to see whether treatment is indicated.

What about anxiety below G.A.D. level? Can’t this be considered a normal reaction when faced with a pandemic, falling economy, and challenged leadership when it is most needed? Yes. A degree of anxiety in such uncertain times is to be expected, but normal doesn’t mean helpful. Even before the present crises, anxiety was widespread and increasing, especially in wealthier countries. Since the appearance of Covid-19, anxiety is increasing at a rapid rate and is itself becoming a health concern. Since it is not a medical condition we must look to a non-medical solution for this robber of peace.

Ayurveda, India’s ancient health science, describes a number of natural practices for lowering anxiety. The most important of these will be covered in the next blog.

Insecurity is a “light” form of fear. Chronic insecurity, unlike its companions on the fear spectrum, is not listed as a “disorder” in DSM-5. Insecurity is more a feeling of vulnerability, a sense that not all is well. Even though milder than other levels of fear, insecurity is the most useful of these emotions as a response to Covid-19. Insecurity can in fact save our lives. We should feel insecure in the face of this pandemic. It is far from over and will be with us for months to come.

How best to manage insecurity? Move towards security. Maintaining social distancing, using masks, hand-washing and other protective measures help us both to feel, and to be, more secure. The early “openings” (June 2020) are driven by economic and social interests more than considerations for our health and should not be taken as a sign we are now “safe.” We have moved to a phase when security has become an individual matter. The best way to overcome insecurity is to observe safe practices until the virus has left the stage. We are all in this together, so let’s be apart awhile longer.

Stay safe all.


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